May 25, 2005
The end of ideology
Most people profess a love of freedom and modern history has given us many countries that have been made "free", from those of Eastern Europe to Ukraine. The implicit assumption is that capitalist democracy is the ultimate aim. Through a Darwinian survival of the fittest process, capitalist democracy has become the sole surviving (and most successful) political economic system. Note an important distinction here - all the talk of "clash of civilisations" between the West (read capitalist democracies) and Islam is a discussion of values, not political economy. While Islam has some economic impact and principles even Iran and Saudi Arabia do not have Islam-onomics. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the last true battle between different political economic systems ended in a decisive win for capitalist democracy.
The proof is in the counter-examples. Look at North Korea or Cuba - both are still clinging to classic Communist principles. On the other hand China has borrowed the capitalist element while doggedly resisting the democracy side - an experiment in capitalist dictatorship, as did Chile under Pinochet.
It seems clear to me that capitalist democracy has won the ideology evolution race - it is the distillation of thousands of years of human thought and history. It's not perfect but it's far better than any of the alternatives. Indeed it is hard to postulate what the realistic alternatives might be.
I'm interested in other thoughts or discussion.posted by Simon on 05.25.05 at 01:20 PM in the China politics category.
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What's Wrong with Democracy and Capitalism?
Excerpt: Simon asks: is there any hope for the transnational progressivists and the world's remaining communists, the folk who hope that Fukuyama is wrong when he says there will never be a system better than the combination of liberal democracy and...
Weblog: Daniel Starr
Tracked: May 26, 2005 06:51 PM
I agree, with the distinction that "liberty" would be a more important indicator of a regime's survivability than "democracy." Singapore is not a democracy but it allows enough personal and economic liberties to make the lack of democracy tolerable for most people. Hong Kong has long had liberty without democracy. Economically, both of the latter are more liberal than most western democracies. Urban coastal China is trying to follow the same path.posted by: myrick on 05.25.05 at 01:31 PM [permalink]
Point well taken, Chris. I suppose that's what I meant by democracy. I'm just wondering if this is the end of the road in terms of the development of a political economic system?posted by: Simon on 05.25.05 at 03:16 PM [permalink]
Hmm ... I've got no argument about the capitalism bit, but aren't you calling a win for democracy a bit early (especially given where you live)? I've got no doubt it's the best system, but my opinion doesn't seem to hold much weight with Hu Jintao. Also, there do seem to be several countries that are going in the 'wrong direction' (e.g. Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Venezuela).
As for further development: what about the development of international systems. Plenty of 'growing pains' around the UN & EU nowadays ... definitely a work in progress.posted by: David on 05.25.05 at 04:03 PM [permalink]
I started writing a comment about how you should read Francis Fukuyama because this sounds like something he wrote, but it got long so I blogged it instead. Not sure if the trackback worked, so:
http://silkworms.chinesetriad.org/index.php?p=159posted by: davesgonechina on 05.25.05 at 05:25 PM [permalink]
David: to be confusing, I'm using the term democracy liberally. To some extent the CCP are being challenged to continue their legitimacy to hold on to rule, so in that sense they are responding to popular opinion (and far more often than is realised e.g. on Taiwan). China's far from perfect given its lax rule of law, dodgy courts and lack of voting to name but a few. But they are not immune to public opinion, especially given they only claim to rule in the name of the people.
Dave 2: good post. I do vaguely remember the fuss over Fukuyama's work although I never read it. Guess it goes to show there's no such thing as an original idea. I couldn't agree more that constant vigilence is needed to protect what we have. My Darwin analogy holds - it might have outlasted others, but predators still exist that will be happy to take it down should its guard be relaxed.posted by: Simon on 05.25.05 at 05:40 PM [permalink]
Francis Fukuyama came to a similar conclusion some years back (see his book "The End of History"): democracy and capitalism are the winners of the race, the only really successful countries, the "last men standing."
Of course, absolutist monarchies could have said the same a few hundred years ago. The winning idea is only winning as long as no one figures out something better.
It is true that no one, not even the Chinese Communist leadership, has confidence in any system except capitalist democracy. But it's also true that many people, from Islamic terrorists to the CCP leaders, are avidly *looking* for something better suited to their aims.
I don't know that they'll find a better answer than capitalism or democracy. Neither Islamic terrorists nor Communist leaders have a very good track record at political innovation. But it's conceivable that someone, somewhere, will find a "better answer." Democracy and capitalism have obvious vulnerabilities, even if every known alternative has even worse ones.
Consdier how awkward modern capitalist democracies are at handling global warming, budget balancing, health care reform, pension reform, certain types of education, trade secrets and copyrights, and crime prevention. In all these issues our current governments mostly do much worse than "best practice". And consider how bad most politicians are -- it's a strange thing to say that a system whose leaders' skills are often held in contempt is the best possible system.
So it's not as though democracy and capitalism leave no room for improvement. We should be humble and honest about the flaws in our system, even though we know it's the best system so far. Someday a superior approach could emerge.
But no, I don't expect any "new system" to come in time to preserve the Communist autocrats, let alone the Islamic terrorists.posted by: Daniel Starr on 05.25.05 at 05:59 PM [permalink]
My Darwin analogy holds - it might have outlasted others, but predators still exist that will be happy to take it down should its guard be relaxed.
As Fukuyama points out in Our Posthuman Future, it's not just predators from outside that can affect LD, but also evolution from within (as in biotech changing what people are, and that changes what society needs to be or can be). Where are the limits of personal autonomy, economic or otherwise, how will they change, and how will that recreate LD? Perhaps an opposition will form not from outside LD, but from within.posted by: davesgonechina on 05.25.05 at 06:29 PM [permalink]
Indeed you could argue such groups already exist, Dave, such as the anti-globalisation movement. But they're not proposing alternatives in any real sense, either.
Daniel: I agree with the thrust of your argument but take issue with some of the details. To wit:
Consdier how awkward modern capitalist democracies are at handling global warming, budget balancing, health care reform, pension reform, certain types of education, trade secrets and copyrights, and crime prevention. In all these issues our current governments mostly do much worse than "best practice". And consider how bad most politicians are -- it's a strange thing to say that a system whose leaders' skills are often held in contempt is the best possible system.There are very valid arguements that LD are best in each of these areas. A cap-and-trade market system is the basis of the Kyoto agreement for example. Australia has run budget surpluses for years; the current US deficit is the choice of that electorate, given Bush's clear mandate. I don't have numbers offhand but I can't imagine dictatorships or Communist countries are paragons of fiscal policy virtue. Even when it comes to crime there are trade offs between crime and its policing. If it is over-policed at a cost of liberties that is a trade-off many (if they had the choice) would not make.
That said the point about absolute monarchies being the best for a certain time rings true. But I'm (and Mr Fukuyama, it seems) asking if this is the most "superior" system we are likely to see. The system can do with improvement, but the basics of the system itself have proved durable for a couple of hundred years so far.
If we're to really stretch the discussion, what would such a superior system potentially look like? What flaws in the current one would it address and how?posted by: Simon on 05.25.05 at 06:40 PM [permalink]
While I generally agree that liberty and democracy are the "end of history" (as Fukuyama calls it), I also think there's huge possibility of backsliding driven by religion. This is most obvious in the Mideast, but IMO it's also showing up in the US. It's been a growing force for the last 20 years and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
The CCP would obviously prefer it if Falun Dafa disappeared. (Which, now that I think about it, it practically has disappeared, or at least we never hear about it here in the US).
Of course, religion can be thought of as just another ideology, but the difference is that adherents are as focused on the unknowable afterlife as on the present, which is enough for some fanatics to justify such madness as committing suicide by flying a plane into a building.
Since the afterlife is scientifically unprovable, I fear that there will never be any reasoning with religious zealots. Our best hope IMO is to let them have their countries. In other words, the US should stop propping up Saudi Arabia, Egypt etc. and force the mullahs to confront modernity. The fervor tends to burn out when there's no dictator to rail against e.g. Iran. Of course, we still need to keep nuclear weapons out of their hands...posted by: Derek Scruggs on 05.26.05 at 01:39 PM [permalink]
Derek you could easily argue that religion is playing a very big part in American politics, too. It's a slippery slope comparing religion with ideology. For mine, they're not the same thing. That's why I don't see the "clash of civilisations".
As for Falun Dafa, they are still around. Any visit to the Star Ferry terminal at TST here in Hong Kong will give you all the info you'll ever need.posted by: Simon on 05.26.05 at 03:30 PM [permalink]
Simon, we agree. While you can argue that religion is just ideology, the afterlife that many religions promise makes it qualitatively different. IMO it's more dangerous, but then again many explicitly atheistic movements have been unspeakably horrific, too. The common thread is that the perpetrators believe they are doing good. If someone believes what he is doing is for the greater good, he can be coached to do great evil. Someone who has doubts about the goodness of master will balk. Religion promises goodness. But so, apparently, do some secular ideologies and nationalist movements: Shining Path, Khmer Rouge etc.
Re: clash of civilizations, well, I've only read reviews & summaries of Huntingdon in magazines, so my knowledge is not that deep. But the recent brouhaha over alleged Koran desecration seems pretty clash-like to me. In the West, while many people revere the Bible, very few would argue that its physical manifestation as a book is anything more than, well, a book.
But my understanding (as of this morning) is that most Muslims view the Koran as a holy manifestation, at least according to http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2005/05/koran_abuse.html
If two civilizations, one dominantly Christian, the other dominantly Muslim, can disagree on something as fundamental as this, what other conflicts should we expect? Terrorism, er, "martyrdom."posted by: Derek Scruggs on 05.27.05 at 02:07 AM [permalink]
Oops. "While you can argue that religion is just ideology..." should have read
"While ONE can argue that religion is just ideology..." I didn't mean to imply that Simon makes this argument.posted by: Derek Scruggs on 05.27.05 at 02:09 AM [permalink]